Archive for the 'Culture and Society' Category

Oct 29 2013

Gender – It’s Complicated

Published by under Culture and Society

A new study by gender researcher, Laurel Westbrook, explores attitudes toward gender determination in various contexts. The issue of gender is interesting partly because it is one of those topics that at first seems fairly straightforward when in fact it is quite complex, not only biologically, but ethically.

By now many people are familiar with the distinction between sex and gender, sex referring to biological characteristic relative to male and female, and gender being a social construct relative to masculine and feminine. In both cases the first thing we must realize is to avoid the false dichotomy as sex and gender occur along a spectrum, and are not binary.


Biological sex in humans is determined by several factors. Developmentally there are two main factors, genetics and hormonal environment. The system is binary in that there appears to be a female developmental pathway and a male developmental pathway, and most individuals do end up unambiguously toward one end or the other of this axis.

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Oct 03 2013

Politics, Science Rejection, and Conspiracy Thinking

Even among self-identified skeptics and critical thinkers, there is the full spectrum of political ideology, and this varying world view does seem to color certain opinions. In my experience in the community, most skeptics eventually get to a similar place with regard to politically-charged scientific topics (logic and evidence do hold sway in the end), but they certainly start in different places. There is also the occasional skeptic who, while displaying critical thinking in most areas, retains a sacred cow or two associated with their political world view.

A recent study explores the issue of political worldview, conspiracy thinking, and the acceptance or rejection of certain scientific topics. Stephen Lewandowsky et al published the study in PLOSOne, The Role of Conspiracist Ideation and Worldviews in Predicting Rejection of Science

The study essentially looks for association between a free market ideology, conservatism, and conspiracy thinking as these world views relate to acceptance or rejection of vaccine safety, global warming, and acceptance of GMO (genetically modified organisms). A number of interesting and not-so-surprising findings emerged.

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Jun 06 2013

Star Trek – Into Bad Science

Published by under Culture and Society

On the SGU this week, the episode that will be released on Saturday June 8th, we do an extended review of the new Star Trek movie, Into Darkness (STID). so – this is a warning to SGU listeners, if you want to hear the episode without spoilers, see the movie before Saturday (or whenever you typically listen to the episode).

We talk about the science in the movie, the characters, the writing, its overall quality as a film and how well it lives up to the Star Trek franchise.

Here I am just going to delve into some aspects of the science in the movie. I am a fan of science fiction, and I am unapologetic in desiring good science in my science fiction. I have no problem suspending my disbelief, and allow writers to invent new science and technology as needed for the story, but there are limits. The unwritten rule-of-thumb in science fiction writing is that you get one huge gimmie, but not more than that.

Regardless of your preference for hard science fiction, there is no reason for gratuitously bad science in science fiction. Science howlers can take you out of a movie, it’s lazy writing, and often that also translates to bad storytelling.

Overall STID was not bad with the science, but there were a few annoying moments, and one unnecessary howler that did immediately take me out of the movie.

(Spoilers below the fold)

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44 responses so far